Advisors, Mentors, and Coaches in Medicine
Medical training and practice are complex. It sometimes feels like following an unmarked, winding path without a map or GPS. Students, residents, and practicing physicians rely upon outside guidance to navigate the system’s complexities and for personal and professional development. That guidance can come from a short piece of advice, a long-term established mentoring relationship, or coaching. Understanding the differences between advising, mentoring, and coaching can align the expectations of the involved parties, ensure the guidance provided is beneficial, and make the desired destination a reality.
What is an advisor? How is advising used in medicine?
An advisor is an individual with specific, frequently systemic-based expertise. In most instances, the advisor is sought after to answer questions. Although the same advisor may be approached on multiple occasions, the advisor-advisee relationship begins with a question and ends when the question is answered. For example, advisers may assist students with schedules or residency applications, provide networking tips for fellows, or assist practicing physicians with practice management. In all instances, the advice provided is targeted and time limited.
How is mentorship utilized in medicine?
Mentor is a common, frequently misused term in medicine. Some may be assigned an older, more experienced colleague as a mentor because of common interests. Others may identify an informal group of peers as a source of mentorship. The first results in prescriptive recommendations based on the mentor’s experience. The latter provides a sense of belonging and support. Neither, however, offers structured personal or professional development. Instead, proper mentorship is an agreed-upon, mutually beneficial relationship in which the mentor provides experiential wisdom to help the mentee develop their career. In return, the mentor may benefit from the mentee’s accomplishments. In medical education, mentorship is commonly used to advance the education, training, and careers of students, residents, fellows, and early career physicians.
What is coaching, and how does it differ from advising and mentorship?
The international coaching federation defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” In coaching, unlike mentoring or advising, the wisdom is held by the client. Through powerful questions and exercises, coaches serve learners by allowing them to identify the path forward. The roles in coaching are clearly defined, and the length of the coach-client relationship is frequently time limited.
We all have goals we want to achieve, dreams we strive for, and times when we need a helping hand. Advising, mentoring, and coaching are different methods that can help medical students, residents, fellows, and practicing physicians find personal and professional fulfillment.